On Saturday 23rd December, Channel 4 takes a trip to Bethlehem in the company of a group of Liverpudlians who call themselves The Christmas Decorators and for the last five years have been helping to light up the huge tree that stands in the town’s Manger Square.
But what is Manger Square?
Manger Square at the heart of Bethlehem is home to the Church of the Nativity which is believed by Christians to stand on the site of the birthplace of Jesus Christ. The square takes its name from the manger in which the baby Jesus is said to have been laid and is also home to Bethlehem’s only mosque, the Mosque of Omar, which doubles as the Palestinian Peace Centre.
Streets in the surrounding area are named in reference to the Christmas story, including Nativity Street, Star Street and Manger Street.
As you’d expect, Manger Square is the focus of Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem, with worshippers gathering there to sing carols and take part in midnight mass on Christmas Eve, which falls on 24th December for Roman Catholics and again on 6th January for Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic followers.
The siege at the church
In 2002 the Church of the Nativity was the scene of a 39-day siege resulting from the Israel Defense Force’s anti-terrorism campaign Operation Defensive Shield. Up to 240 people, some of whom were armed Palestinians, took refuge in the church as the IDF surrounded the area. It was alleged that during the siege Israeli snipers killed a number of Palestinians. The stand-off ended with 39 militants agreeing to turn themselves in and being exiled to Gaza and countries in Europe.
The World’s Best Christmas Lights: From Liverpool to Bethlehem is on Channel 4 at 8pm on Saturday 23rd December